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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Levenfish - Botvinnik Match 1937

At play during the match
     In 1937 Botvinnik declined to play in the Soviet Championship because he was preparing his thesis for his doctorate in electrical engineering. Nevertheless, his refusal to play angered some of his supporters. 
     One such was Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky who was not only a Soviet Master but also one of founders of the Soviet chess school, a chess organizer, an Old-Guard Bolshevik cadre, writer, military organizer, historian and diplomat. Ilyin-Genevsky censured Botvinnik and notified Nikolai Krylenko who sent Botvinnik a telgram in which he threatened to discuss his refusal with the Central Committee
     This was no idle threat. At the time the Soviet Union was entering an era of terror.  In his memoirs Botvinnik made light of the 20-minute trials and executions, claiming that the British press was “conducting an intensive anti-Soviet campaign.” But Botvinnik was, according to David Bronstein, “a good Communist” and so given his own high standing in the Soviet Union, Botvinnik could hardly expect him to say otherwise. 
     The fact is that on the day of the Botvinnik-Vidmar game at Nottingham in 1936 there was in the Soviet Union a show trial of 14 high ranking Communist Party members and anti-Stalinist who were found guilty and shot. Near the end of his life in an interview with Dutch GM Gennady Sosonko, Botvinnik said that reports of millions dying in camps was unlikely and many, including some of his friends, actually returned home from them. However, he told another interviewer, Sarah Hurst, that mass repressions did start in 1937 but he was busy with tournaments and his doctoral thesis so he didn't feel any of the effects.
     At the same time a few Party officials Botvinnik had known began disappearing. One in particular was a fellow named Grigory Ordzhonikidze, who had given Botvinnik a car, apparently saw the handwriting on the wall and committed suicide.  Alexander Chevryakov, who had awarded Botvinnik the Badge of Honor in 1936 followed suit and did the same thing. Also, Alexander Kosarev was shot in 1939. 
     On September 10, 1936 one master, Pyotr Izmailov, was arrested for participating in a counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-fascist terrorist organization and on April 28, 1937 he was sentenced to death and shot. He was married to Galina Efimovna Kozmina, who received eight years in Kolyma for being the wife of the enemy of the people. 
     A similar fate was met by other of Botvinnik's opponents. Arvid Kubbel, Mikhail Shebarshin and Vladimir Petrov of Latvia disappeared. Regarding Petrov, he was sentenced to ten years in a corrective labor camp after being arrested in August 1942 under Article 58 for criticizing decreased living standards in Latvia after the Soviet annexation of 1940. Wikipedia states that in 1989 it became known that he had died at Kotlas in 1943 from pneumonia. One time at the US Championship GM Edmar Mednis, who was born in Latvia, was talking about Petrov and when asked whatever happened to him, Mednis replied rather tersely, “The Russians shot him.” 
     According to Leonid Shamkovich it was because Botvinnik knew he was valuable to the Soviets for propaganda purposes and so he could get away with treating people like Krylenko as an equal. 
     So, because Botvinnik wasn't playing in the 1937 championship the rather long of tooth 48-year old Grigory Levenfish who had shared the title with Ilya Rabinovich in 1934 won the title.   Not long afterward Krylenko announced that there was to be a match between Levenfish and Botvinnik. According to Levenfish in his memoirs it was Botvinnik who wanted the match. 
     Levenfish was promised that if he won or drew he would be awarded the coveted title of Soviet Grandmaster. The match would end when someone scored six wins or if the score stood at five wins to five wins. In the latter case, the match would be drawn. Thus, Botvinnik need to score 6-4 to win the match. 
     The match began at 6:30 pm on October 5, 1937 which was the same day the Euwe-Alekhine world championship match started in The Hague. The two opponents hammered away at each other as evidenced by the fact that out of 13 games only 3 were drawn.  Levenfish got off to an early lead, but then Botvinnik fought back and was leading after 9 games by a score of +4 -2 =3. Then Levenfish fought back and after 12 games Botvinnik's lead was a single game with a score of +5 -4 =3. Levenfish's win in the final game tied the match at 6.5 points. 

Botvinnik 1 0 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 0 0 1 0  6.5 
Levenfish 0 1 1 ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 0 1  6.5 

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